Abbotsford Muslim community grateful for support after shock of attack

Public welcomed to city's first Open Mosque Day on Feb. 11; US travel ban prompts Muslims not from affected countries to reconsider plans.

Tahir Khalid

Tahir Khalid

Sunday’s deadly terrorist attack on a Quebec City mosque has only reinforced the need for more understanding of the Muslim faith, according to the organizer of an upcoming public event at Abbotsford’s own Islamic centre.

With a click of a Facebook button Friday evening, Adnan Bhat created the first Open Mosque Day at the Abbotsford Islamic Centre. The event, meant to answer questions and bridge a knowledge gap, took on a greater resonance two days later, when six Muslims were shot and killed during evening prayers in Quebec.

The killings have been called a “terrorist” attack, voices from across the political spectrum have condemned the act, and vigils have been held across the country. The suspect’s Facebook site reportedly linked to anti-immigration politicians, and he is reported to have made online comments denigrating refugees.

Bhat – a Chilliwack resident who has held open mosque days in the Okanagan and runs his own foundation – said the Quebec attack left him shaken.

“This was something that I never thought would happen in Canada,” Bhat said.

Similarly, Tahir Khalid, who has been in Canada for 15 years, said he was shocked by the attack but has been heartened by the response.

“The response from Canadians as a whole has been very positive,” he said. “We have been overwhelmed actually by the response from our neighbours and colleagues.”

On Monday, the Abbotsford mosque received letters and cards of condolence and flowers from the community, and the following evening, Abbotsford residents came together at the Salton Road mosque for a vigil.

Bhat was also pleased the shootings have been labelled a terrorist attack.

“I’m glad that that word was used for the attack.”

Art Turnbull, with the Abbotsford Interfaith Movement, said Tuesday’s vigil was important to show solidarity with the Muslim community.

“An attack on a place of worship … is a direct attack on our Canadian right of freedom of religion,” he said. “That’s an offence against all religions.”

Meanwhile, Bhat and members of the Abbotsford mosque continue to prepare for the upcoming open house. In addition to tours of the Salton Road building, tables on a range of issues will be set up to answer attendees’ questions. Several kids are preparing their own educational booth, and there will even be a chance to try on, and take pictures in, hijabs.

Swaleyha Islam said Muslims are often “dehumanized” in the media and hopes the event will foster more understanding.

“We want to show we’re not really different from anybody else,” said the Abbotsford-born-and-raised teen.

Local residents who were born abroad are also still trying to process how they might be affected by U.S. President Donald Trump’s new ban on travellers from certain countries.

While the ban was first believed to impact anyone born in seven named countries, including Canadian citizens, the restrictions have been reportedly loosened in recent days.

But with details unclear and speculation that the ban could be widened to more countries, Bhat – who was born in India-administered Kashmir – has cancelled his plans for an upcoming visit to the U.S. Khalid, who hails from Pakistan and frequently crosses the border to travel and shop, also won’t be returning to the U.S. until there’s more certainty.

Bhat, though, is optimistic.

“We have more smiles than bullets, and we have more compassion than hatred and we have more friends than enemies.”

The Open Mosque Day event takes place Feb. 11 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Abbotsford Islamic Centre, 1980 Salton Rd. For more information, click here.

Today (Wednesday), the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at will hold the 10th annual World Religions Conference, which is meant to increase understanding by bringing together religious scholars from a range of faiths.

The event takes place from 6 to 8:45 p.m. at Columbia Bible College’s Chapel Auditorium. Coun. Kelly Chahal will moderate the forum, while Abbotsford board of education chair Shirley Wilson will be the keynote speaker.